Session 5: Communication in Conserving Maine's Lakes, Streams and Rivers

Please reach out to individual speakers if you are interested in viewing PowerPoint presentations from this session. Due to limited staffing, we are unable to post the presentations to the website.

Morning Session – 8:30AM-10:30AM
Cumberland Room, First Floor

Session Co-chairs:
Katie Swacha, University of Maine
Elizabeth Payne, University of Maine

Although the phrase “upta camp” might elicit memories of carefree fishing, swimming, hiking, and boating for many people in Maine, conserving the waterways where those activities take place can feel anything but carefree. Increasingly, lake associations and other conservation groups are on the frontlines in what feels like a David-and-Goliath battle to maintain water quality, to prevent or manage infestations of invasive aquatic species, and to protect native biodiversity and watershed health. Disagreements between waterfront property owners and other stakeholders concerning exactly what “conservation” means and how to achieve it—with often scarce resources—can frustrate everyone involved. At the same time, such local-level deliberations, which typically take place informally between neighbors or at lake association meetings, are exactly where important conservation work does and must occur.

This session invites papers that examine the work of watershed conservation from a communications and/or sociocultural perspective to explore the in-the-weed work that gets done by watershed conservation groups throughout Maine. We invite participants to tell their stories and experiences in navigating these issues. Together we will share strategies for productively negotiating differences, reaching agreements, and taking action to conserve inland waterways.

Session Schedule

8:30AM – 8:55AM

Protecting Cross Lake – Unique in Many Respects

Cheryl St. Peter
Friends of Cross Lake

Cross Lake is unique, as an impaired lake in the unorganized territories that does not meet Maine water quality standards due to high phosphorus and low water clarity. It is developed with ~275 camps/homes and is governed by the County of Aroostook (“County”) and the Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC). Most of the camps/homes are on leased land owned by JD Irving, who owns ~40% of the watershed. Most of the watershed is either agricultural or industrial forestland.

The Friends of Cross Lake (FOCL) was formed by local volunteers in 2018 to improve and protect Cross Lake. We approached the St. John Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (District) and the County to work with us, among others. The District was severely understaffed, so the County agreed to apply for grants that we would manage. FOCL conducted a watershed survey, wrote a successful DEP/EPA 604(b) grant application, completed a Watershed-based Management Plan, and wrote a successful 319 grant application. We are now managing that grant with the help of an agricultural consultant.

FOCL has no paid staff and has faced misinformed farmers, a dysfunctional District, the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection’s developing “riprap” policy, being located a great distance from experienced contractors, and having a limited budget. We are also now facing development pressure. 

On a positive note, some farmers are concerned and interested in the grant funding, there is a dedicated group of FOCL volunteers, Lake Stewards of Maine and Maine Lakes are helping, and the largest landowner has made financial donations.

9:00AM – 9:25AM

Prototyping a New Way for On-the-Ground Communication Across the State

Susan Gallo (1), Amy Bonsall (2)

  1. Director, Maine Lakes
  2. Trustee, Lake Wesserunsett Association

There is always news to share about what is happening in, on and around Maine’s lakes. Rain washes out a dam. A new invasive species appears. An algae bloom explodes. But how do lake advocates find out what is happening, in real time? Advocates’ time is limited, they are often volunteering for a lake or watershed association, and their connections can be primarily within a waterway or project. But this real-time information could significantly influence their priorities. For example, Lake Wesserunsett learned of an invasive outbreak nearby only when it was published in the paper… weeks after the outbreak occurred. Real-time information could have allowed volunteers to shift priorities and bolster CBI support. 

Creating space for lake advocates to communicate easily and to ask questions of each other and of experts are the main goals of Maine Lake Talk, developed by Amy Bonsall with support of Susan Gallo and Maine Lakes. Lake Talk is hosted on Slack, a digital communication platform that is used worldwide within organizations for informal communications. Maine Lake Talk was created in 2022 and has grown slowly, but a critical mass of active participants is needed to make it the resource our community needs. We need your help. This interactive talk will have you on your feet, engaging in a physical conversation called creative tensions (we promise it’s safe and fun!). Together with you, we hope to create a robust future for Maine Lake Talk, making it a better tool for communication about vital lake issues.

9:30AM – 9:55AM

The Greatest Threat to Our Pond Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It

John Eliasberg
Georges Pond Association

Georges Pond is a 358-acre lake in Franklin, ME. The lake is on Maine’s nonpoint source (NPS) priority watersheds list because of algal blooms which began in 2012. Since 2018, the Georges Pond Association (GPA) has:

  • Developed a Watershed-Based Management Plan
  • Increased GPA membership dramatically
  • Raised about $400,000 in private funds
  • Treated the lake with aluminum in 2020 and 2021 (and have since enjoyed the deepest water clarity on record)
  • Completed over 85 LakeSmart property surveys
  • Completed two 319 grants, which addressed:
    • Residential properties
    • Gravel roads
    • Septic Socials, a septic inventory, and a septic inspection program
    • Major improvements to the Town of Franklin Public Beach

The focus of this presentation is to review the GPA experience from a communications and sociocultural perspective. We view our lake association as an education and communication organization that coordinates among three key partners – scientific experts, political organizations, and our local community. We will review some of our communication challenges, messages, and strategies, along with our assessment of what worked for us and what did not. In our experience of generating support, we benefited greatly from helpful science, government and consulting experts and another lake association. It has been enormously rewarding to “pay it forward” by assisting five more lakes throughout Maine addressing similar challenges. We have enjoyed learning how to care for our lake, getting to know our neighbors and helping others. This presentation will be short to allow sufficient time for questions and discussion.

10:00AM – 10:25AM

Relationships Are at the Center of Conservation

Jennifer Brockway
Executive Director, Somerset Woods Trustees

Conservation is a very transactional business:  we draft documents and research title, survey boundaries and inventory plants, commission appraisals and sign deeds or easements. As conservationists, we hold tightly to our transactional checklists, ticking boxes and moving methodically toward the finish. But long before any of that, we sit down at the kitchen table, or we take a walk. We listen to a landowner’s stories.  We share our own. And we build relationships. It’s the relationships that people have with each other, with their land, their lake, and their community that determine the success or failure of conservation projects. Relationships – and the trust inherent in them – are the true currency of conservation. These ideas will be explored through the lens of a collaborative conservation initiative undertaken by Somerset Woods and Lake Wesserunsett Association. By tending the relationships between partner organizations, the initiative built the necessary trust allowing us to undertake the first successful land acquisition, the Reid-Lahti Wetlands. Now a second project is underway, launched over breakfast with a landowner and refined while sharing stories on the land.  For contrast, we can briefly look at a land trust project that didn’t work – and how it differed from these recent successes.